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Desperate US seeks to evacuate 40,000 Americans from under Taliban guns as Biden defends premature withdrawal


WASHINGTON: US personnel have nominally regained control of Kabul airport and resumed the perilous task evacuating an estimated 40,000 Americans stranded in Afghanistan even as a defiant President Joe Biden blamed his predecessor Donald Trump and the Afghan government and its forces for the "rapid collapse we're seeing now."
Shocked US military strategists described the race to airlift stranded Americans as a "Dunkirk moment" amid a botched withdrawal that has shaken the Biden administration. With the Taliban in control of the airport perimeter and its access points, the situation is dire, with less than 1000 Americans evacuated in the 72 hours since the Taliban walked into Kabul unopposed after the country's president Ashraf Ghani fled and government forces melted away.
In remarks delivered from the White House East Room, President Biden acknowledged "the buck stops with me" but insisted "I do not regret my decision to end America’s warfighting in Afghanistan."
"I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here," he said.
But he went on to blame his predecessor Donald Trump for the overall debacle suggesting the withdrawal deal the former President struck with Taliban left him with a poor hand. Acknowledging that the situation "did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated," he also blamed it on "Afghanistan political leaders (who) gave up and fled the country" while noting "the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight."
"If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision. American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves," Biden said, adding, "We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future."
The defence still did not explain the intelligence debacle and the logistics fiasco that has left thousands of Americans in harm's way after the Taliban rolled across the country in days and walked into Kabul unchallenged.
While the US military spokespersons said American forces have had no hostile encounters with the Taliban, the fact that the gun-toting fundamentalists control the airport perimeter and meant they also control access to the airport, with reports of those wanting to exit the country having to negotiate their way into the airport.
Although no firefights have been reported from Afghanistan, infighting and sniping has broken out in Washington over the crisis in Kabul, including within the Biden administration. The US military leadership, diplomats, intelligence analysts and politicians are caught in a circular firing, with each constituency claiming they had forewarned how quickly the Taliban would seize control, and the need for emergency evacuation plans.
Maintaining that the Defence Department "absolutely" did plan for "the possibility that the Taliban would make significant gains throughout the country," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged on Monday that "One of the things that we couldn't anticipate and didn't anticipate was the degree to which Afghan forces capitulated sometimes without a fight."
On their part, State Department officials suggested they were going by the intelligence community assessments that the fall of Kabul was not imminent.
Based on the same assessment, top US leadership, from President Biden to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen Mark Milley, had said a Taliban takeover was not a foregone conclusion.

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August 17, 2021, 5:56 pm

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